?Media exposure. "The WAC is a good conference, but it plays in remote areas," says Pepperdine coach Jim Harrick. "The PCAA's best teams [ Las Vegas, Fresno] aren't in major media centers. And the WCAC has good teams but small arenas." Adds Washington coach Andy Russo: "My sisters call once a week to find out how we did because our scores never get into the papers back East. That's why we've gone to Saturday afternoon games. At least one game a week is going to make it into the morning papers."
It's 10 p.m. on the East Coast, and that collective click you just heard was the sound of thousands of channel changers switching from the just-completed Big East thriller on ESPN to reruns of Taxi, passing up the late game, Oregon at Washington State. Among the switchers are the scores of eastern high school players who won't be going to colleges out West.
In a sense, TV has taken much of recruiting out of the hands of recruiters. "At UTEP we were in the Top 20 three years in a row," says Idaho's Floyd, who was a UTEP assistant until last spring. "But when we'd call kids, all they knew about was Connecticut and Seton Hall." Nor can a slick recruiting pitch compete with live action piped into a prospect's home. "Now you can't tell a kid, 'We fast-break all the time' if you don't," says Ohio State coach Gary Williams.
So TV exposure is now the sharpest point in whatever multipronged pitch is left for recruiters to make. "TV keeps a kid closer to home," says Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead. "If a fellow left home for a school 3,000 miles away, he used to be forgotten. With cable your son goes off to Georgetown and you can still see him play once a week."
No school has been helped by TV more than DePaul. The Blue Demons built their program with Chicagoans but sustained it by casting a national net, thanks to WGN, the Chitown-based superstation that reaches 21 million homes. Lord help us if Ted Turner ever founds his own college.
Cutting the right conference TV deal entails more than finding the highest bidder or the largest number of exposures. Last season the Big Ten switched its TV rights from ESPN to Lorimar, a syndicator that concentrated league telecasts in the Midwest. "We thought it would help with recruiting," says Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, speaking for the league's coaches. They've thought again: The Big Ten ended up conceding both coasts and was out-exposed by the Big East and the SEC; this season it will be back on ESPN.
" Big East is the name of our conference, but it's really the Big America," says Providence's Chiesa. "We thank ESPN, that magic four-letter word."
New York City begat the original recruiting characters, but nowadays one can find basketball gumshoes just about anywhere. These are some of the guys who know where the bodies are buried: